Linguistics and English Language Research Ethics Information

Submitting for Review

All LEL submissions for ethical approval must use the PPLS Ethics Submission Portal, and must use GDPR-compliant consent forms.

For a basic outline of the ethics process from start to finish, see this page.
For step-by-step instructions on using the submission tool, see this page.

LEL Honours and MSc students: do not submit an application to the portal yourself. You should do this with your supervisor, and your supervisor must submit the application. Full instructions are here.

Questions: contact the LEL Research Ethics Convenor at

Reviewing Panel

The LEL Research Ethics panel has the following members: Bert Remijsen (LEL Research Ethics Convenor), Claire Cowie, Chris Cummins, Christian Ilbury, Itamar Kastner, Dan Lassiter, Mits Ota (also PPLS Research Ethics Convenor), Hannah Rohde, Kenny Smith, and Sumin Zhao.

The LEL ethics panel also reviews submissions from Philosophy.

Guidance for Staff and PhD students

In LEL (and Philosophy), the process for obtaining ethics approval for research projects is the same for staff, post-docs, and PhD students. You are encouraged to read through the information on this page to understand that process and to understand the ethical implications your research may have.

For researchers working in Psychology, please see guidance here.

Guidance for Honours & MSc Students

Every LEL dissertation (Honours or MSc) for all projects involving collection of data from live participants or use of pre-existing data with potential ethical implications must be logged as approved on the PPLS research ethics portal.

Ethical approval is sought by your dissertation supervisor in consultation with you. If you are conducting research with live human participants or using pre-existing data with potential ethical implications, continue reading! If your project does not involve either of these, then please see guidance here.

For a complete outline of the ethics process for students, please go here.

Informed consent

First, check out this short video about written consent.

Key points:

  • All participants in any research must give voluntary and informed consent to their participation in the research.
  • This should be obtained in advance of any data collection.
  • In order for informed consent to be considered to be valid, the participant must:
    • have the legal capacity to give consent,
    • be able to give consent freely without any element of coercion,
    • have enough knowledge of the subject matter that they can make an informed decision as to participation.
  • It is the responsibility of the researcher, not the participant, to obtain this consent, and to ensure that the consent is valid.

More info:

  • Vulnerable Populations and Capacity to Consent:
    • If you’ll be working with participants who do not have the capacity to give their own consent (infants/children, the elderly, disabled adults, prisoners, people in care, or other vulnerable populations), you must gain informed consent from legal caregivers.
    • Note that teachers, nursery/nursing home nurses, GPs, etc., generally cannot give final consent for those in their care.
  • Free consent without obligation:
    • All participants or consenting caregivers, should be made aware that they are under no obligation to participate, that non-participation will not prejudice their continued care, educational progress, medical treatment (etc., as appropriate), and that they may withdraw from participation at any time, again without prejudicing their care, progress or treatment.
  • Making an informed decision:
    • In order for a potential participant to make an informed decision as to their participation in any research, the participant must be made aware of the nature, (general) purpose and duration of the research, the method by which the research is to be conducted, and any risks or benefits which may come from participation in the research.
    • This information must be provided by the researcher as part of an informed consent form. Please be aware of two issues:
      • Informed consent depends on descriptions of the study being comprehensible to participants. Please consider the population you are testing and consult with other experts/supervisor to ensure that you fulfil this criterion.
      • This does not mean providing a summary of your experimental design, or the variables you are manipulating. You should not provide information which would influence a participant’s behaviour (e.g., indicate how you expect them to behave).

LEL specific guidance:

  • Use of recorded speech or other experimental data: 
    • Participants must agree to how the data or recorded speech will be used, e.g. for a particular research project and its demonstrations, for general research and teaching use, or for the general public. Note that putting sound recordings on the world wide web constitutes general public use and must be agreed to; this includes depositing data with Edinburgh DataShare.
  • Use of online experiments:
  • Use of existing corpora:
  • Experimental vs. qualitative/ethnographic research:
    • Differences in research practice and method in linguistics are reflected in different ways of approaching informed consent. Two approaches are outlined in the following links:

Informed Consent in Experimental Research
Informed Consent in Qualitative and Ethnographic Research

Consent forms

Please go to our dedicated consent form (and information sheet) page, and find the right template for your study.

Consent forms/information sheets in other languages
If you are collecting data in a language other than English, please submit for review copies of all consent/information forms in both English and the relevant local language(s).

Consent forms and online data collection
If you are collecting data online, there are several options available for how to meet the requirements for informed consent. Please see our dedicated consent form (and information sheet) page for more information.

What do you do with your consent forms?
Consent forms are confidential documents. No one should have access to consent forms other than researchers approved on the ethics protocol. Research staff who are PIs on projects should retain all consent forms on the project for at least three years following the completion date of the project. Consent forms should be stored in a secure location, and this location should be described in a data management plan or in the submitted ethics application. PI’s are encouraged to store digitised consent forms. In this case, originals that are scanned to PDF must be securely shredded.

Debriefing & Deception

Researchers may find it useful to include a debriefing of the study for participants at the close of the project. The debriefing process is a requirement for studies that employ deception. Please read this page, if you are considering using deception in your study. When deception is involves, the debrief form should include:

  • An explanation of what was being studied (i.e., purpose, hypothesis, aim) using lay terms and avoiding jargon.
  • An explanation of how participants were deceived.
  • An explanation of why deception was necessary in order to carry out the research.
  • An explanation of how the results of the deception will be evaluated.

If debriefing is used as an educational tool, participants should be given a simple, clear and informative explanation of the rationale for the design of the study and the methods used.

Data management

Researchers should have a plan for storage, maintenance and sharing of data, including:

  • Data collected or recorded from participants
  • Stimuli and software used to conduct experiments
  • Documentation of informed consent (e.g., signed consent forms)

All applications for ethical approval require an outline of plans for data management. However, no separate Data Management Plan (DMP) document is required. Please visit this page for detailed information and resources about data storage and sharing. Note: If your funding agencies requires a separate DMP, here are some templates, resources available.

What happens to the data when you leave Edinburgh? When individuals involved in a research project leave the university, they may retain research data for projects on which they have worked. We recommend that original data also be retained at Edinburgh by the PI/Supervisor.

Staff funded research projects

All staff funded projects (in any PPLS Subject Area) must be registered on the ethics portal, regardless of level (i.e., even ‘Level 0’, with no live participants).

External ethics bodies: Collaborations (other universities)

If you are collaborating on a research project with researchers external to Edinburgh, please note the following:

  • External researchers can and should be listed in your application for ethical approval.
  • If ethical approval has been obtained through another university ethics board, but you will interact with research participants or have access to raw data, then you must also log your project through the ethics submission portal. In that case, the only documentation required is evidence of prior external ethical approval. Your application will be automatically approved.
  • Please note that in some cases, collecting data outside of the UK may trigger the need to apply for additional insurance through the university.

External ethics bodies: NHS (sponsors & research with children / vulnerable groups)

If you intend to attempt to solicit research participants from external bodies, such as state primary or secondary schools, the NHS (including prison service), or charities funded by the NHS, you may have to undergo a process of ethical review and approval with these bodies. In some cases, you may be required to have the university as a researcher sponsor. Plan to do this well in advance of starting your data collection, as these processes may take a number of months.

Complete the National Health Services ethics self-assessment
What requires Research Sponsorship through CAHSS?

Note: if you have obtained NHS ethics approval for your project, this approval pre-empts our ethics review process. You must log your project through the ethics submission portal, but the only documentation required is evidence of prior NHS ethical approval.

Working with vulnerable groups. If you intend to work with children, the elderly, or any other vulnerable group, you may be required to undergo further disclosure processes. Please see this page for information about conducting studies with children, and applying for Basic Disclosure or the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.

Other checks and disclosures: Insurance, adverse outcomes, social media data

The University maintains an insurance policy for all ‘Level 1+ projects’ (projects with live participants). If you need proof of insurance (e.g., for funding purposes), contact Sylvia Rennie who will then coordinate with the Insurance Office.

Adverse outcomes. If any participant in your study reports an adverse affect, please notify the LEL Ethics Committee (

Using data from social media. If you intend on analysing text obtained from social media (particularly where posts are not entirely public like Facebook), please first read this page. Students should discuss ethical implications with their supervisors.

Recruiting through PPLS mailing lists

Researchers in PPLS (and in Informatics) are permitted to use PPLS mailing lists to recruit participants. Please note:

  • No PPLS Undergraduate mailing list may be used for participant recruitment.
  • In order to use PPLS mailing lists you must indicate this in your ethics application, name the list, and provide the text you will send to the list. This text must include a statement confirming that the project has PPLS ethics approval, e.g., “This project has been approved by the PPLS Research Ethics review panel.”
    • Any Informatics-approved project that uses a PPLS mailing list should ideally also include this text. Although we cannot enforce this, any recruitment email without such text will be responded to with an inquiry about where ethical approval was obtained.
  • Researchers external to PPLS/Informatics must have a named collaborator in PPLS/Informatics.


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in May, 2018. New guidelines regarding collection, processing, sharing, and storing data are outlined. These have implications for our ethics process. A summary of these implications, and guidelines for adhering to them in conducting research can be found in this Research under GDPR Handbook.

All information sheet and consent form templates are designed to adhere to the GDPR regulations. Please see notes contained within them.

Please see this page for guidance on secure data storage and sharing.

Requesting documentation of approval

When your ethics application is granted approval, you will receive an automatically-generated email indicating this. You can use this email as documentation of ethics approval.

If your require evidence of ethical approval for your project in the form of a document on University letter-head, you can request one. Send an email to, and reference your approved application number.

Making changes after approval

You may need to make changes to a protocol you have already submitted, or that is already approved. The following pages will help:

More advice

For more help, please consult the following pages: